Last Updated on July 29, 2021
Picture this: the immensity of an endless space filled with nothingness, absolute silence, nature at its wildest. A regenerative moment, a place to leave behind the stress of everyday life and reconnect with yourself. A trip to the desert leaves an important print in your heart and soul. There are 23 major deserts in the world, and every location is different with something unique to offer. Whether you are exploring sand dunes in a hot desert or going on an expedition to the arctics, no natural landscape will challenge you as much as deserts do, so brace yourself for an adventure.
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Desert Travel Guide
In order to plan your trip to the desert, make sure to double check the local climate of the destination you are travelling to. The best time to travel to a hot desert is usually winter, whereas the best time to visit a cold or polar desert is during spring and summer. The clothing and gear you are going to need will be mostly linked to the weather conditions, keeping in mind that temperatures can also fluctuate heavily between day and night. Travelling light is usually not an option if you are going to the desert.
All different types of deserts are characterized by extreme weather conditions, low precipitations and lack of vegetation (all those things that make a certain environment a desert by definition). Most deserts are dry and hot, but temperatures can fall sharply at night. Strong winds and sandstorms can also make your desert expedition more challenging. In cold deserts, temperature rarely goes above freezing, making the landscape permanently covered in snow and preventing plants and trees to grow there.
In a hot desert, you’ll find that your body will start heavily producing sweat in order to cool itself down to fight off the heat, which in turn puts you at a higher risk of dehydration and mineral depletion. Making sure you have access to water at all times should be a priority, and you should pay special attention to what you eat and drink during your trip. If you have access to natural water sources like fountains or streams, you can take advantage of those with the help of a survival water flask with antibacterial filter; if that’s not the case, make sure to bring enough water with you before you start your trip. A desert-proof water cooler is ideal in this case, keeping in mind that to prevent dehydration you should carry water and other mineral-rich drinks, whereas coffee, tea and alcohol can make you more dehydrated.
What to wear
When travelling in the hot desert you will need to wear breathable, lightweight clothes during the day and switch to something warmer at night. Long sleeves and trousers are desirable as they can help you shield off some dangerous UV rays, and light colors will also help you reflect these (avoid wearing black in the desert). Bring a jacket with you that you can wear in the early morning and evenings when the sun is not up and temperatures drop.
Hanes Men’s Long Sleeve Cool Dri T-Shirt UPF 50+
Weatherproof Original Mens Golf Jacket (Mens Windbreaker)
The best quality desert boots are made from sturdy and breathable materials, which can be leather or a vegan substitute. As far as socks are concerned, Merino wool is the best fabric to keep your feet fresh and absorb moisture from sweat. Never walk barefoot in the desert, as the hot sand poses a risk of scorching the soles of your feet.
Shemagh / Keffiyeh desert scarves are essential parts of a desert outfit, and a must if you are in a windy location where you risk having sand particles blown into your mouth. When it comes to picking a hat for your trip to the desert, a quality sun hat offering UV ray protection is what you need.
The Sonora Desert, also called the Gila Desert, is one of the largest and hottest deserts in North America, with an area of about 311,000 km², encompassing parts of the states of Arizona, California and the Mexican states of Sonora, Baja California and Baja California Sur.
The hot desert climate of the Mojave distinguishes it as a separate terrestrial ecoregion. It has an average elevation of 910 to 1800 meters above sea level, and it contains the Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley Park, which is North America’s lowest and hottest point, with temperatures regularly reaching 49 degrees Celsius in July and August. Zion National Park in Utah is located at the junction of the Mojave, the Great Basin Desert and the Colorado Plateau.
The Atacama Desert is not a desert like any other: it is the driest desert in the world, with rocky landscapes and canyons that resemble landscapes from another planet. The village of San Pedro de Atacama, also called “El Oasis”, is one of the most beautiful places to visit, located at an altitude of 2,500 meters near the Bolivian border.
The Simpson Desert, located in the arid heart of the Australian continent, covers an area of over 58,000 km2 and is characterized by impressive dune systems, up to 10 meters high, formed along an ancient riverbed. Some of these systems follow each other for significant distances, up to 200 kilometers. Temperatures are very hot in winter and very cold in summer.
Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria
The Sahara (from Arabic الصحراء, sahrāʾ, “desert”) is the largest and most famous hot desert on Earth, with an area of 9000000 km², located in North Africa. It extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea for a length of about 5000 km, with the only interruption of the Nile Valley, and for a width of 1500-2000 km from the Mediterranean to the central regions of Africa, where the transition from desert to savannah is sometimes very uncertain and established by climatic factors.
Namibia, Botswana, South Africa
The Kalahari is a desert region in southern Africa. It extends mainly into Botswana, the eastern belt of Namibia, and northwestern South Africa. With an area of about 930 000 km², it is the sixth largest desert in the world. It appears as a vast expanse of sand. It is very arid and has characteristics of a steppe climate, and it is a must if you want to experience a true African desert wildlife safari with lions, gazelles, giraffes, and so on.
The gigantic Gobi Desert (gobi is Mongolian for “waterless place“) encompasses parts of Northern China and Southern Mongolia, featuring an incredibly stunning landscape made of mountains, unusually green forests, and of course sand dunes. The Khongoryn Els dune system in the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National park is one of the few in the world where you can witness the natural phenomenon of singing dunes. The Gobi desert is also considered a cold desert.
USA (Alaska), Canada, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden
The Arctic ecoregion stretches 2,000 km west-to-east, and 1,000 km north-to-south, across the Arctic Ocean north of Norway and Russia. It covers the island groups of Svalbard (Norway), Franz Josef Land (Russia), Severny Island (Russia), and Severnaya Zemlya (Russia), as well as the state of Alaska, Greenland, and parts of Northern Europe. Its desert landscape is covered with glaciers, snow, and bare rock in a harshly cold environment, and temperatures only go above freezing sporadically during the summer.
The vast majority of the Antarctic continent is an ice desert with little to no precipitations. It is on average the coldest, driest, and windiest place on Earth. If that doesn’t put you off, then know that you can travel to Antarctica. The best time to go on an expedition is from late spring (end of October / beginning of November) to late summer (beginning of March).
Camping in the desert is a unique experience that requires you to know how to adapt to extreme circumstances, but that will also reward you with breathtaking landscapes, suggestive atmospheres and the possibility to admire a starry sky like nowhere else in the world. You can arrange camping on your own in smaller deserts like those in the United States, while it is definitely advisable to join a tour or desert safari that includes camping if you are in a large desert like the Sahara. Try local foods and customs to savor the authentic local experience.
- Camping Tent
- Sleeping Bag
- Desert Backpack
- Desert Hiking Boots
- Plenty of water
- Food for desert
- First aid kit
- Travel insurance covering desert activities
The camel, the iconic desert transport animal, was domesticated thousands of years ago and can be ridden ethically similar to horses. Camel safaris are available in many parts of the world, from Africa to Mexico to Japan to Australia. Wherever there is a desert, you will probably find a camel to ride.
If you’re looking for a thrill, dive into the very popular desert sand sports like dune-bashing (dune racing in 4x4s), dirt biking and quad-bike and dune-buggy rides. These are activities not recommended for the faint of heart!
Desert surfing and dune skiing are two ideal ways to complement a desert safari. Action sports on sand dunes are practiced with all types of boards: sandboards (i.e. snowboards with a very thick laminate base), sleds, skis.
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